Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.
Supply and demand. It sounds so easy in theory. It gets much more complicated when you’re a farmer wondering what that elusive Market wants from you this year. Here, using lessons we’ve learned from farms across the country and the questions we get from your buyers ALL THE TIME, we break down the process of market planning into six steps so you can buy seed and plant your crops with the assurance that that crop will sell at the prices you need, to buyers you are proud to work with.
Follow this template as a way of organizing your information as we go through the steps. We’ll use an example of the red, yellow, and blue balloons we produce to illustrate each step. Request a copy for yourself by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and start yourself on the path to marketing your crop…in January!
1. Determine what you’re best at growing, what you most enjoy producing, what you make the most money on, or what you’re most interested in selling at quantity.
This first step will be unnecessary for those of you already specializing in a few signature items. For those of you producing dozens of varieties, we find it’s helpful to choose your top 10-12 items and make sure you have a solid marketing plan for those.
Lizzy’s Farm produces red, yellow, and blue balloons. I’ve listed them in the first section of my spreadsheet like so:
2. Explain why someone should buy your products.
Most farmers know intuitively what is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING about their crops. When talking to buyers, though, rarely do they do justice to the unique and valuable attributes of their products. So, what’s so great about your sweet corn, green beans, or onions? Talk about color, size, texture, flavor. Give the buyer confidence that you know your product and will deliver the quality they seek.
In my spreadsheet, I’ve written a brief but informative description for each of the types of balloons that Lizzy’s Farm produces.
3. Determine the quantity you could reasonably expect to harvest.
What quantity of each of your crops do you think you’ll have available? It’s easy to estimate, gives you a clearer picture of how much marketing and distribution work you have ahead of you, and gives your buyers even more confidence that you are the producer to work with (like it or not, they have a lot of choices). Of course, you could have a bumper crop, or utter failure. That’s part of the excitement of agriculture. But try to give some indication of how much you’ll be producing. Doing so will help you in Step 6 also - should you target buyers with 22 store locations, or restaurants with a walk-in fridge?
Based on the 300 acres under production, I estimate that I’ll have 1000 lbs each of red, yellow, and blue balloons in the 2014 season.
4. Identify ways that you could conceivably package your crops.
Outline the possibilities that are reasonable for your farm, staff, and the crop itself. Don’t say you can bunch those greens if you don’t have the people, time, or twist-ties with which to make that happen! Start considering these packaging options distinct items in your inventory because they come with different costs and appeal to different buyers.
My balloons come in grades A, B, and C. I don’t want to pack individual units, but I can easily do 3 lb bags, 1 1/9 bushel boxes, and 100 lb bins of my balloons. That gives me 27 DIFFERENT PRODUCTS to tell buyers about.
5. Determine BASED ON YOUR COSTS how much you NEED to make on your crop.
This step is not about setting a price. Rather, it is about figuring out what you must make in order to break even. An estimate is okay! When you’re at the peak of the season and you have a bumper crop of eggplant that needs to sell immediately, you’ll have a reference point for deciding whether to take that large quantity order at a slightly lower price than you had hoped for, or spare yourself the time and labor. This step also leads into the next one…
I look at the fixed costs of my enterprise, those that don’t change no matter how much I decide to grow, as well as the variable costs of my production, those that go up the more seed I buy, time it takes to plant, water it takes to grow, labor required to harvest, etc. I come up with the BREAKEVEN price I’d need in order to not lose money on this crop. That way, if a buyer offers me just more than that to purchase a large quantity, I have a reference point for deciding whether to take the offer.
6. Decide who your ideal buyers are.
Your ideal customer should be based on how you can reasonably pack your crop and what prices you need for it, NOT your dream of being in the produce aisle at your local coop. If you’re selling by the 1000 lb bin, don’t consider a local restaurant your ideal buyer. Focus instead on a grocer that has three or four stores in your nearest city. Many of the farmers we work with are finding that their local market is pretty well exhausted, and they’re in search of regional and even beyond-regional buyers. Luckily, Plovgh’s network is there to support them! The point is, make sure you’re being realistic about the types of buyers you can serve.
Lots of people like balloons! But my low prices (I own my land, and balloons don’t require much time once they’re in the ground) and the way I pack make my products - all 27 of them - make me a good fit for mid-sized grocers. I’d like to tell some of them about the balloons I’m growing this year, and Plovgh is an easy way to do that!
In the next segment, we’ll take your answers to these questions and turn them into a plan that you can communicate to buyers so you go into spring with a clear picture of what your season’s going to look like. If you’ve got other suggestions for your fellow farmers, share them in the discussion below!
If you’d like to discuss your farm’s market needs with Mallory or Lizzy, you can sign up here. We’d be happy to talk with you!
Production of our popcorn was cut by over half last year due to the drought. Northeast Iowa, where I farm, was hit the hardest last year by the drought. This year we had a record wet and cold spring which then turned into a “flash drought”. At this time Northeast Iowa, although still dry, is the wettest part of Iowa. Our yields should only be slightly below trend line.- A conversation with Jim Fitkin of Fitkin Farms in Cedar Falls, Iowa earlier this season
It’s true: Farmers tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to money. They have the hardest job on the planet but because they’re at the foundation (read, bottom) of the industrial food chain, they’re typically the last to get paid. Not only do they just make $0.11, on average, for every dollar of food you purchase, but they also wait weeks - sometimes, we hear, even months - to get paid for their work.
But seed needs to be planted! Land needs to be tilled! Farmers themselves need to be fed! What an abomination.
We at Plovgh have a mission to keep independent farms viable, and we accomplish it by making it possible for any farm to sell directly to its customers. Farms that sell their harvest through Plovgh set their own prices and get paid 24 hours after they deliver their crops to you.
We’re pleased to have found in Dwolla compatriots in the battle to take down all the giants that stand between a buyer and seller. Now, using Dwolla Credit on Plovgh, you can place an order from a farmer today, receive your harvest and get him paid tomorrow, and only part with your own cash at the end of the month. Check it out, for your own good and your farmer’s.
When you register on Plovgh, use the discount code GoDwolla to get $10 toward your first purchase from the farms!
In the last two weeks there has been an incredible number of self-organized efforts that have emerged to bring support to some of the communities hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Plovgh too felt the urgency to jump in and help in a way that we best know how - connecting farms and people.
We held our first Plovgh volunteer day last Sunday in the home kitchen of the Rose Water chefs, and coordinated produce donations from some of our farm friends. (A big thank you to Brooklyn Grange and North Fork Egg Farm for their contributions!) We had over forty people volunteer their time, and more folks are continuing to reach out and ask how they can help.
That was just the beginning of the stories that began to unfold.
A friend wrote to us that he had meet someone named Chris Dalton owner of Dalton’s Seaside Grill while out volunteering in the Rockaways and told us how they had a buffet set up out back of the restaurant and were feeding volunteers and locals. The food had been cooked elsewhere and delivered and they were heating it up on a sterno to feed people throughout the day. Did we know of anyone making prepared food in bulk that could help out? We put them in touch with Food Not Bombs and the next day meals were being delivered out to Dalton’s to feed the community.
This week Kassy at Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership wrote to us that their farm stand had been canceled due to the Nor’easter that blew through yesterday and told us that they had produce they wanted to donate. And then this happened:
Not only was a farmer able to salvage the crops that had been harvested for the farm stand, but the volunteers at Occupy Sandy were able to get more food for their kitchens and continue cooking meals.
It’s super exciting to witness these connections and the collaborations that they spark which ultimately result in people getting fed. If you want to get involved check out these opportunities to volunteer or drop us a line.